So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mystagogy


Carl Heinrich Bloch, The Resurrection, 1873.

1074 "The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows." It is therefore the privileged place for catechizing the People of God. "Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of men."
The season of Easter—Yes, dear world, Easter is not merely one day but an entire season!—is a period of 50 joy filled days leading up to the great feast of Pentecost, the Solemnity when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. This is a time for mystagogy. Neophytes, those newly welcomed into the Church, now enter more deeply into the Mysteries, i.e., the realities communicated by the Sacraments, specifically Holy Mass.

What is mystagogy?
1075 Liturgical catechesis aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ (mystagogy) by proceeding from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the "sacraments" to the "mysteries." Such catechesis is to be presented by local and regional catechisms. This Catechism, which aims to serve the whole Church in all the diversity of her rites and cultures, will present what is fundamental and common to the whole Church in the liturgy as mystery and as celebration, and then the seven sacraments and the sacramentals.
Neela Kale describes mystagogy this way:
The fourth stage of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is called “mystagogy,” from the Greek words meaning “to lead through the mysteries.” Traditionally, mystagogy extends throughout the Easter season, until the feast of Pentecost. This is a period of accompaniment for new Catholics as they discover what it means to fully participate in the sacramental mysteries of the Church. The newly baptized are called “neophytes,” from the Greek words meaning “new plant,” because the faith has been newly planted in them. Even though their catechetical preparation has been completed, they still have much to learn about what it means to live as Catholic Christians. Things often look different from the inside! Once they find themselves really on the inside, the neophytes often have more questions about living a life of faith. They need the ongoing support of the community so that the faith newly planted in them can grow deep roots.
Prior to reception into the Church, those in formation were not permitted to receive the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, it's a whole new story. The neophytes are admitted to Holy Communion, a joy beyond description. For the newly baptized and those receiving the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) for the first time, the immensity of the joy and gratitude for such great gifts is typically overwhelming, and so it should be! Imagine having all your sins forgiven! Imagine receiving the Lord into your life and receiving His very Body and Blood! No, wait—don't imagine it, come and see! The Church welcomes you! Ask a priest about becoming Catholic.

Mystagogy is also a lifelong process of coming into a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus. As we approach the altar to receive the Most Precious Body and Blood of Christ, we who have been Catholic for a while, especially cradle Catholics who may have become comfortable in the Faith, benefit greatly from the witness of the newly baptized and confirmed. Their renewed innocence and fresh encounter with the sacraments are great signs and blessings inviting us all to renew our baptismal promises and thus enter ever anew into the ineffable mysteries revealed by Christ.

Mystagogy is a time when we can share with the newcomers the profound impact of Holy Mass on our lives, a time of liturgical catechesis which is more "caught" than "taught". When we share our experience about the Divine Liturgy, there will inevitably come a moment when all words cease and the Lord Himself speaks to the neophyte, often by completing our incomplete sentences in the silence of the heart. Indeed, the Lord has been speaking to the neophyte even before having been received into the Church, drawing the inquirer into a closer relationship. The Holy Spirit whispering in one's soul, through events that are graced moments such as the proclamation of the Holy Gospel, a conversation with a Catholic, a moment of honest reflection on the state of one's life, a recognition that one's heart is yearning for someone, etc. Our hearts will only find peace when we accept Jesus' invitation to know and love Him and His Church.

Mystagogical Catechesis, from Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis:
64. The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one's life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops asked that the faithful be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words. Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate. Given the vital importance of this personal and consciousparticipatio, what methods of formation are needed? The Synod Fathers unanimously indicated, in this regard, a mystagogical approach to catechesis, which would lead the faithful to understand more deeply the mysteries being celebrated. (186) In particular, given the close relationship between the ars celebrandi and an actuosa participatio, it must first be said that "the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well." (187) By its nature, the liturgy can be pedagogically effective in helping the faithful to enter more deeply into the mystery being celebrated. That is why, in the Church's most ancient tradition, the process of Christian formation always had an experiential character. While not neglecting a systematic understanding of the content of the faith, it centred on a vital and convincing encounter with Christ, as proclaimed by authentic witnessesIt is first and foremost the witness who introduces others to the mysteries. Naturally, this initial encounter gains depth through catechesis and finds its source and summit in the celebration of the Eucharist. This basic structure of the Christian experience calls for a process of mystagogy which should always respect three elements:
  1. It interprets the rites in the light of the events of our salvation, in accordance with the Church’s living tradition. The celebration of the Eucharist, in its infinite richness, makes constant reference to salvation history. In Christ crucified and risen, we truly celebrate the one who has united all things in himself (cf. Eph 1:10). From the beginning, the Christian community has interpreted the events of Jesus’ life, and the Paschal Mystery in particular, in relation to the entire history of the Old Testament.
  2. A mystagogical catechesis must also be concerned with presenting the meaning of the signs contained in the rites. (All the more reason liturgies should be beautiful and celebrated well according to the liturgical norms!) This is particularly important in a highly technological age like our own, which risks losing the ability to appreciate signs and symbols. More than simply conveying information, a mystagogical catechesis should be capable of making the faithful more sensitive to the language of signs and gestures which, together with the word, make up the rite.
  3. Finally, a mystagogical catechesis must be concerned with bringing out the significance of the rites for the Christian life in all its dimensions – work and responsibility, thoughts and emotions, activity and repose. Part of the mystagogical process is to demonstrate how the mysteries celebrated in the rite are linked to the missionary responsibility of the faithful. The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one’s life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated. The aim of all Christian education, moreover, is to train the believer in an adult faith that can make him a “new creation”, capable of bearing witness in his surroundings to the Christian hope that inspires him.


Eugenè Burnand, The Disciples Running to the Sepulchre, 1898.

So, this Easter season, this time of a more intense mystagogy, this time of beauty, truth and goodness in which we are immersed, may we all surrender more deeply to Christ. Let us pray for the grace that opens our minds and hearts to the Holy Trinity as we hear the word of God proclaimed during the Mass. By God's grace, may we enter into a deeper communion with the Lord when we receive His Sacred Body and Precious Blood. During this glorious season, and always, may we discover the renewal of freedom that God offers us in the Sacrament of Penance.

May our 'yes' to God's gift of salvation be a confident Easter 'Alleluia'—praise to the Lord!

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

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